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Bearden v. International Paper Co.

September 17, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Susan Webber Wright United States District Judge


This is a case of alleged employment discrimination in which plaintiff Mary Bearden, a former employee of defendant International Paper Company ("IC"), asserts claims of sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq., pay discrimination in violation of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 ("EPA"), 29 U.S.C. § 206(d), and defamation of character in violation of state law. The following motions are before the Court: (1) plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability [doc.#50]; and (2) IP's motion for summary judgment [doc.#54]. Plaintiff has filed a response in opposition to IP's motion for summary judgment, IP has filed a response in opposition to plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability, and plaintiff and IP have each filed a reply to the response to their respective motions for summary judgment. Having considered the matter, the Court denies plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability [doc.#50] and grants IP's motion for summary judgment [doc.#54].


Plaintiff was born in February 1949 and received a two-year degree in mechanical drafting from Southeast Arkansas Junior College in 1972. Plaintiff began working at IP in March 1973 as a draftsman. Plaintiff was terminated from her employment on September 1, 2005, at the age of 56, after she altered a requisition that had already been approved to purchase a bicycle for her husband that was to be used in his work for IP as a maintenance mechanic.

At the time of her termination, plaintiff was a Purchasing Supervisor, having received that title in September 2004. Previously, plaintiff was a Buyer, a position which she had held since March 2001, with a pay grade at Placement Level (PL) 8. Plaintiff sought to become a Senior Buyer to increase her PL, but the Mill did not have that position after April 2004 because of a corporate program, "One Job, One PL." Because plaintiff's PL could not be increased as long as she remained a Buyer, she needed to be placed in a different position that was graded at a higher PL. Consequently, the Mill had to engage in negotiations with corporate management to move plaintiff to a PL 10 position, with the title of "Purchasing Supervisor." The Mill was granted an exception to give plaintiff the Purchasing Supervisor title, even though plaintiff would not be supervising any employees. The PL increase to 10 occurred on September 1, 2004. Both Buyers and Purchasing Supervisors were responsible for negotiating contracts with suppliers for the Mill and purchasing items not maintained in stock, and plaintiff's duties did not change when she became Purchasing Supervisor, which at the time of her termination entailed purchasing for the Pulp and Power area and purchasing some environmental source materials.*fn1

IP's Pine Bluff Mill has a process for the approval of purchase order requisitions that was in place at the time of plaintiff's termination. Once purchase order requisitions were created, they were to be signed by the appropriate department supervisor and/or manager. Maintenance or repair related requisitions were to be signed by the maintenance manager. The approved requisitions were to be deposited with the Purchasing Department, which would review the requisitions to ensure that they had proper authority. The Purchasing Department would then submit department signed requisitions each day to the Mill Manager, Calvin Staudt, Operations Manager, Dane Griswold, and Mill Controller, Kenneth Baymiller, for a requisition review meeting. All requisitions were to be reviewed and signed at that meeting. Requisitions that were not approved at the meeting were returned to department managers for review and re-submission. Approved purchase orders were returned to Purchasing for processing.

Richard Bearden is plaintiff's husband and is employed at IP as a general mechanic in the Hyster Shop. Bearden has used a bicycle to get around the plant and transport material and tools. The bicycle used by Bearden was damaged in the Finishing and Shipping Department and apparently rendered unusable. Although Bearden could perform his job without the bicycle, he would not have wanted to wait six months for a new bicycle. Bearden asked Dwight Hedden, Operation Manager for the Finishing and Shipping Department at the Pine Bluff Mill, if he could get his bicycle replaced. Hedden states he agreed to see what he could do about getting the bicycle replaced, but that his supervisor, Department Manager Scott Spence, must first authorize the purchase. Hedden states he twice submitted requisitions to Spence, but that Spence rejected both requisitions, and that he never submitted another requisition to Spence.

Plaintiff states Hedden told her he was having trouble getting a purchase requisition through and that she told him to "buy it on [his] charge card," but that he said, "Mine is maxed out." Plaintiff states she didn't purchase the bicycle with her own corporate charge card "because you had to track down the paperwork for it. And then you had to -- it's more work for me."*fn2

Meanwhile, Maintenance Analyst Karen Jackson submitted a requisition for approval of one bicycle for the maintenance area. The bicycle was to be charged to cost center 39555271, which was for maintenance area 271. Jackson's requisition went through the proper approval process and was signed by her department manager, the maintenance manager, and the operations manager. One bicycle for Charles Driskell was approved and Griswold's initials represented the final approval for the purchase of the bicycle. However, plaintiff subsequently altered Jackson's requisition in the sum of $563.00 by crossing out the quantity so that the requisition called for the purchase of two bicycles rather than the one Jackson had originally requisitioned for her department. Plaintiff admits her handwriting appears at the bottom of he requisition stating "1 for the Hyster Shop." As a result of the change plaintiff made to Jackson's requisition, which was without Jackson's knowledge, a purchase order was issued for two bicycles and the purchase order stated "1 for the Hyster Shop." Both bicycles were charged to the work area for the number 2 paper machine and the bicycle for plaintiff's husband was not charged to Hedden's cost center.

On July 29, 2005, Spence and Jeff Winkler, Area manager for Maintenance, noticed that Bearden had a new bicycle. Spence confronted Hedden and confirmed that he had not used his corporate credit card to purchase the bicycle. Plaintiff states she found out Spence was asking about the bicycle and caught him in a hallway and told him what she did -- that she had added the bicycle to another requisition.*fn3 Plaintiff apologized to Spence and told him that she would not do it again. Plaintiff states Spence told her he wasn't getting the production he wanted and didn't want to make any purchases, and that she told Spence not to worry about the bicycle hitting his cost center. Plaintiff did not remember being told by Spence that her job was in jeopardy.

Plaintiff states she did not speak to Spence before she changed the requisition to purchase the bicycle because she did not know it was his decision and that Hedden, as the supervisor over her husband's department, "had the authority to tell me to get one" (although plaintiff does not know whether Hedden is a department head). Plaintiff states Hedden asked her to help replace her husband's bicycle (although she could not remember when that occurred), but Hedden states he never told plaintiff to alter a requisition to purchase a bicycle for her husband. Plaintiff acknowledges that Hedden had not specifically told her he had authorized the purchase of a bicycle for her husband.

Plaintiff was called into the office of Steve Estes, Human Resources Manager for the Pine Bluff Mill, who told her that the bicycle purchase for her husband was an "unpleasant situation." Plaintiff states that Baymiller, who was also present, told her that she didn't have authorization to change a requisition. Although plaintiff states she told Baymiller that "[m]aintenance people have a bike," that "it's being used for International Paper's purposes," and that "[i]t wasn't going to any personal benefits for anybody in any direction," Baymiller told her the changing of the requisition "was a breach of company policy, a betrayal of trust." Management believed that plaintiff was aware of the fact that Spence had denied purchase of the bicycle, although plaintiff denies that she knew management had denied purchase of the bicycle. Plaintiff also states she "believe[d]" she had the authority from Baymiller to change requisitions and identifies Robert Traweek, Manager of Purchasing and Stores (spelled "Traywick" in her deposition), as a person with knowledge of her claim and represents that he would state that changing the requisition in the manner in which she did was "standard practice."*fn4 There is no deposition testimony or declaration of Traweek included in the record, however.

On August 17, 2005, plaintiff met with Staudt and Estes. Staudt told plaintiff that she had lied and was deceitful and had committed a breach of trust. Staudt told her he wanted her out of the plant and that he would let her know his decision regarding her continued employment.*fn5 Shortly thereafter, plaintiff was terminated for modifying a requisition without proper authority to purchase a bicycle for the use of her husband that had previously been denied by management.


Plaintiff moves for summary judgment on the issue of liability and opposes IP's motion for summary judgment on grounds that her discharge, rather than for violations of company policy, was due to gender and age discrimination, that at the time of her discharge, she was paid less than a certain male employee of IP performing the same or similar work, and that IP defamed her by stating she was discharged for being dishonest.


Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). As a prerequisite to summary judgment, a moving party must demonstrate "an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the moving party has properly supported its motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must "do more than simply show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The nonmoving party may not rest on mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but must "come forward with 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 587 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) and adding emphasis). See also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). The inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (citations omitted). However, "[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for ...

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